21-EPN-FT1-003: Biogeochemical tools to search for biosignatures in microbial carbonates from extreme environments
Visit by Sylvie Bruggmann, University of Lausanne (Switzerland) and Camila Areias, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (Netherlands), to TA1.6 Argentinian Andes (Argentina).
Dates of visit: 10-16 December 2022
Report Summary: Microorganisms evolved under extreme conditions as the first forms of life on Earth. In the geological record, signatures of these microbial communities can be preserved in the chemistry of sedimentary rocks as microbialites. The identification of their biogenicity, however, is often ambiguous, as biosignatures can be overprinted, and abiotic processes may form similar signatures. Microbialites forming under extreme conditions on the modern Earth can be used as analogues to better understand the formation of biosignatures, and to improve their identification in sedimentary rocks from Earth and Mars.
The TA1 Facility 6 in the Argentinian Andes provides an ideal environment where carbonaceous microbialites form under extreme conditions, such as cold temperatures, low precipitation and high UV radiation. To better resolve the ambiguity of biosignatures, we use a combined approach of organic and inorganic biogeochemical tools to examine sediment and water samples. The organic tool focuses on lipid biomarkers that can be attributed to specific biogenic sources, such as cyanobacteria. In addition, the inorganic tool utilises elemental concentration and isotope compositions of biologically relevant metals, such as Fe or Sr, which can record information of a biogenic or abiotic origin. The combination of these organic and inorganic tools can improve the identification of biosignatures and their credibility can be enhanced.